Mining and the Low carbon economy: Human and Labour Rights in the Supply chains of electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels

Tracker_Headline_Image_1000x1000Mineral Tracker  is a special project of the London-based Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, with the goal of “tracking the human rights implications of the mineral boom powering the transition to a low-carbon economy.” The website provides analysis, data, and case studies focused on the allegations of violations against mining multinationals, relating to environmental damage, access to water, health impacts, indigenous rights and labour rights in the mining of the cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, nickel and zinc.  The website monitors the mineral supply chains in the manufacture of  Electric vehicles , Wind Turbines , and Solar Panels .

Geographically, Southern Africa leads in the number of allegations made, followed by South America, Asia Pacific, North America – where four allegations have been made regarding nickel mining, three regarding cobalt and two regarding  zinc.  A special report is dedicated to practices in Southern Africa ,  where half of the top companies mining these minerals have been accused of serious human rights abuses, from violating access to water and land rights to corruption, violence and deaths.   An overview  global analysis and summary was released in August 2019, charting the number of human rights allegations by mineral, and identifying the top five companies and their countries of operation.  Of these, only Teck Resources has Canadian Headquarters, with operations in Peru and the USA. Teck is cited for seven human rights allegations in zinc mining used in wind turbines and solar panels.

minerals-sourcing-for-renewable-energy_COVER-300x425 Mineral Tracker maintains an archive of important  articles and reports from other organizations.  Some other reports available there: Responsible minerals sourcing for Renewable Energy  (2019)  by Earthworks, and  Green Conflict Minerals: The fuels of conflict in the transition to a low-carbon economy (2018) published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

The parent organization, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre published  Renewable Energy Risking Rights & Returns: An analysis of solar, bioenergy & geothermal companies’ human rights commitments in 2018.  Read the WCR summary of that report here.

Amnesty International campaign calls for better mining, manufacture, and disposal of electric vehicle batteries

golf electricWhile the Nordic EV Summit   in March 2019 showcased progress on the adoption of electric vehicles, Amnesty International used that backdrop to  issue a challenge to leaders in the electric vehicle industry –  to produce the world’s first completely ethical battery, free of human rights abuses within its supply chain, within five years.

It is not news that the mining of  cobalt and lithium, the two key minerals in batteries, has been linked to human rights abuses, environmental pollution, ecosystem destruction and indigenous rights violations.   Amnesty was amongst the first to document the child labour and human rights abuses with a report This is what we die for   in 2016,  updated in  2017 by an article,  “The Dark Side of Electric Cars: Exploitative Labor Practices”.  More recently, “Indigenous people’s livelihoods at risk in scramble for lithium, the new white goldappeared in The Ethical Corporation  (April 9), describing the human rights situation in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, which hold 60% of the world’s lithium reserves. The environmental impacts of deep-sea mining are also of concern.

In addition to the mining of raw materials, battery manufacturing has a high carbon footprint, with most of the current manufacturing concentrated in China, South Korea and Japan, where electricity generation remains dependent on coal and other polluting sources of power.

Finally, the issue of electronic waste, including batteries, has been the subject of several  reports:  From  the International Labour Organization :  in 2012,  Global Impact of E-waste: Addressing the Challenge and more recently,  Decent work in the management of electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) , an Issues paper produced for a Global Dialogue Forum on Decent Work in the Management of Electrical and Electronic Waste in April 2019.  The 2019  report provides estimates of the workforce involved in some countries – led by China, with an estimated 690,000 workers in 2007, followed by up to 100,000 in Nigeria , followed by 60,000 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  The report deals mainly with occupational health and safety issues and includes an overview of international  e-waste regulation, as well as case studies of  the U.S., Argentina, China, India, Japan, Nigeria.  Similar discussions appear in  A New Circular Vision for Electronics Time for a Global Reboot , released by the E-waste Coalition at the 2019 World Economic Forum, and in a blog, Dead Batteries deserve a Second Life published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development on April 9.evcobalt-lithium-V2_1-supply-chain

Clearly, there are labour and environmental problems related to lithium-ion batteries and the green vehicles and electronic devices they power.  Recognizing  all these concerns, the new Amnesty International campaign is calling for:  improvement in human rights practices in mining, and  a prohibition on commercial deep-sea mining; disclosure and accounting for carbon in manufacturing, and for legal protection and enforcement of workplace rights such as health, equality and non-discrimination; finally for products to be designed and regulated to encourage re-use and penalize waste, with prevention of  illegal or dangerous export and dumping of batteries.

United Nations reports warn of health impacts of climate change, thawing Arctic

geo6 final 2019The Fourth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) convened from March 11 – 15 in Nairobi, Kenya, under the sombre cloud of the crash of Ethiopian Airlines which killed many, including Canadians, on their way to attend the meetings.

The flagship report, produced by 250 global scientists and experts, is the Sixth Global Environmental Outlook, which the UN press release calls “the most comprehensive and rigorous assessment on the state of the environment completed by the UN in the last five years .. warning that damage to the planet is so dire that people’s health will be increasingly threatened unless urgent action is taken.”  It warns that, without such urgent action,  cities and regions in Asia, the Middle East and Africa could see millions of premature deaths by 2050, with pollutants in freshwater systems leading to deaths through increased  anti-microbial resistance, as well as impacts on  male and female fertility and impaired neurodevelopment of children, from endocrine disruptors.  A 28-page  Summary for Policymakers   is available in multiple languages besides English, including French .  GEO6-NA_cover_large

The official documents from the UNEA meetings are compiled here , including the closing press release summary, “World pledges to protect polluted, degraded planet as it adopts blueprint for more sustainable future” .

Other reports relevant to Canada:

1.The Assessment and Data Report for North America is one of the regional reports, all of which are compiled here .

2.  Global Resources Outlook 2019: Natural Resources for the Future We Want    examines the economic benefits and environmental costs of resource use, and finds that all resource sectors combined (including agriculture, mining, forestry ) account for 53% of the world’s carbon emissions. Extraction and primary processing of metals and other minerals  is responsible for 20% of health impacts from air pollution and 26% of global carbon emissions. The report warns that without change,  resource demand would more than double to 190bn tonnes a year, greenhouse gases would rise by 40% and demand for land would increase by 20%.   A summary of the report appeared in The Guardian.

3.   With a forecast even more dire than the 2018  IPCC report, Global linkages: A graphic look at the changing Arctic  warns that even if global emissions were to halt overnight, winter temperatures in the Arctic would still increase 4 to 5°C by 2100 because  of  greenhouse gases already emitted and ocean heat storage. The UNEA report warns of the dangers of thawing permafrost, predicting that by  2050, four million people, and around 70% of today’s Arctic infrastructure, will be threatened.  However, a critique by  the Carbon Brief    disputes this particular conclusion within the UNEA report, and states that  if humanity can mobilize to hit a -2 degrees C target, “future Arctic winter warming will be around 0.5 to 5.0°C by the 2080s compared to 1986-2005 levels, much lower than the 5.0 to 9.0°C values stated in the report.” … “This means that much of the future warming in the Arctic will depend on our emissions over the 21st century, rather than being ‘locked in’, as the report claims.” The Carbon Brief analysis is summarized in The  Energy Mix .

 

Recommendations for Canada’s high growth industries, including natural resources and clean technology

Innovation report 2018On September 25, the federal Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development released a report:  The Innovation and Competitiveness Imperative: Seizing Opportunities for Growth,  with over-arching “signature” proposals in the consolidated report, and specific proposals in individual reports by six “high-growth potential” sectors: advanced manufacturing  , agri-food , clean technology , digital industries,  health and biosciences  , and resources of the future  .  These six groups had been identified by the Advisory Council for Economic Growth  , a body which has issued many of its own reports, including the 2017 reports,  The Path to Prosperity   and Learning Nation: Equipping Canada’s workforce with skills for the future   .

In this latest series of reports, the identified Sector groups were led by  “Economic Strategy Tables— which the government characterizes as “a new model for industry-government collaboration”.   Each “Table” consisted of a  Chair,  and approximately 15 industry experts, with consultants McKinsey & Company providing “fact-based research and analysis”.  The reports are unmistakably written by management/industry authors (replete with many references to “agility”,  “own the podium” and “sandboxes”). A deeper dive into two of the sector reports reveals very substantial recommendations, with common themes of best practice examples from other countries, Canada’s international competitiveness, Indigenous relationships, and  attention to workforce issues of skills gaps and diversity.

The Clean Technology Economic Table Report  proposes: “the ambitious, export-focused target of clean technology becoming one of Canada’s top five exporting industries, nearly tripling the sector’s current value for exports to $20 billion annually by 2025” –  a growth rate  of 11.4% per year on average.  The report makes recommendations under six categories, including financing, engagement  with Indigenous communities in partnership and co-development of clean technology initiatives, increased government procurement, regulation, and workforce issues. Greatest attention is given to the regulatory environment, with proposals for a “Regulatory Sandbox for Water Regulation” and a “Regulatory Sandbox for air quality and methane emissions regulation”.    “Ultimately, we will need as much innovation in our public policy tools as there is in technology to ensure progress on critical economic and environmental objectives.”  Regarding  workforce issues, the report recognizes that Clean Technology will compete for Scientific, Technology,  Engineering and Math ( STEM) skills, but highlights a particular shortage of soft skills required for entrepreneurship, business development, finance, advocacy, risk management and forecasting. It calls  for “work-integrated learning programs”, and better labour market data collection and dissemination. Without ever using the term “Just Transition”, it does call for “Opening streams of these programs for workers to re-skill”, and “Adding new eligibility criteria for these programs to promote an inclusive and diverse workforce”.

resources of the future coverThe  “Resources of the future” Table Report  examines the mining, forestry and energy industries; the tone is set in the introductory remarks which state: “While resource companies are committed to the highest environmental and safety performance, they are burdened with an inefficient and complex regulatory system that adds cost, delays projects and is not conducive to innovation.” Recommendations are set out in five thematic sections, including “agile regulations, strategic infrastructure, innovation for competitiveness, indigenous people and communities, and attracting and re-skilling talent.

The report notes the established issues of an aging and gender-biased workforce in natural resources and identifies automation and digital skills as a neglected and misunderstood  issue in the industry.  It proposes a “Resources Skills Council” which, notably,  would include labour unions, along with all levels of government, industry associations, universities and polytechnics.

Do electric vehicles create good green jobs? An Amnesty International report on Supply Chains says No

Tesla TruckNovember brought  exciting news about electric vehicles:  BYD,  one of China’s leading electric carmakers, announced that it will open an assembly plant in a yet-to-be-announced location in Ontario in 2018, (though according to the Globe and Mail article,   the new plant will only create about 40 jobs to start ).  Also in mid-November, Tesla revealed a concept design for  an  electric truck in an glitzy release by Elon Musk , and the Toronto Transit Commission announced its plan to buy its first electric buses, aiming for an  emissions-free fleet by 2040.    Unnoticed in the enthusiasm for these announcements was a report released by Amnesty International on November 15:    Time to Recharge: Corporate action and inaction to tackle abuses in the cobalt supply chain  which concludes : “ Major electronics and electric vehicle companies are still not doing enough to stop human rights abuses entering their cobalt supply chains, almost two years after an Amnesty International investigation exposed how batteries used in their products could be linked to child labour in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).” (That earlier report was This is what we die for   released in January 2016) .

Under the heading “The Darker side of Green Technology”, Time to Recharge states: “Renault and Daimler performed particularly badly, failing to meet even minimal international standards for disclosure and due diligence, leaving major blind spots in their supply chains. BMW did the best among the electric vehicle manufacturers surveyed.”   Tesla was also surveyed and ranked for its human rights and supply chain management; Tesla’s policies are described in its response to Amnesty International here.  And further, Tesla has come in for suggestions of  anti-union attitudes  in “Critics Suggest Link to Union Drive After Tesla Fires 700+ Workers” , in  The Energy Mix (Oct. 23), and in an article in Cleantechnica , and for discriminatory policies in “The Blue-Collar Hellscape of the Startup Industry“, published in In these Times and re-posted in Portside.

The Amnesty International report is a result of a survey of 29 companies, including consumer electronics giants Apple, Samsung Electronics, Dell, Lenovo, and Microsoft, as well as electric vehicle manufacturers BMW, Renault and Tesla.  Questions in the survey were based on the five-step due diligence framework set out by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in its Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas.  Detailed responses from many of the surveyed companies are here.